Common name: Ekor anjing, Greater Plantain, Common Plantain, Broadleaf Plantain, Broad-leaved Plantain, Cart Track Plant, Dooryard Plantain, Greater Plantago, Healing Blade, Hen Plant, Lambs Foot, Roadweed, Roundleaf Plantain, Waybread, Wayside Plantain, White Man’s Foot
Botanical name: Plantago major
The plant is native to most of Europe and northern and central Asia. It is widely naturalised elsewhere in the world, where it is a common weed. Another one of its common names was “Soldier’s Herb” for its use on the battlefield as a field dressing.
It is a herbaceous perennial plant with a rosette of leaves 15-30 cm diameter. Each leaf is oval, 5-20 cm long and 4-9 cm broad, rarely up to 30 cm long and 17 cm broad, with an acute apex and a smooth margin; there are five to nine conspicuous veins. The flowers are small, greenish-brown with purple stamens, produced in a dense spike 5-15 cm long on top of a stem 13-15 cm tall (rarely to 70 cm tall).
Cultivation and uses
The seeds of this plant are a common contaminant in cereal grain and other crop seeds, and as a result the species now has a world-wide distribution as a naturalised (and often invasive) weed. It is believed to be one of the first plants to reach North America after European colonisation. Native Americans called the plant “White Man’s Footprint” because it appeared wherever white men went.
The leaves are edible and used in herbal medicine, but can be somewhat tough. The taste is that of very bitter salad greens with a lingering aftertaste like spinach. Young leaves are recommended as they are more tender. The leaves when dried make a good tea. The sinews from the broadleaf plantain are very pliable and tough when fresh and/or wettened, and can be used to make small cords or braiding. When dry the sinews harden but also become more brittle.
Historical uses as a wound healer and snakebite remedy have been found to have scientific merit. Plantago major contains the cell proliferant allantoin, and is used as a replacement for hepatotoxic Comfrey in herbal preparations (commercial product Solaray Comfree). It also contains acubin. Traditionally used to prevent uterine bleeding after childbirth (made into a tea and inserted via a douche), it was also used to treat a variety of other ailments. There is a contraindication that seems to be missing from most of the current literature, however. It is a potent coagulant. This can be tested easily by taking some water-based paint, making some plantain tea and mixing the two together. The paint particles will immediately permanently separate from the water. Because of this unique quality, plantain was used as a wound dressing on the battlefield (it was also called “Soldier’s Herb” which referred to this use). Due to these properties, people who take blood thinners or those prone to blood clots should never use plantain internally. Some cultivars are used in gardens, including ‘Rubrifolia’ with purple leaves, and ‘Variegata’ with variegated leaves.
Plantain Medicinal Properties and Herbal Use
Plantain is edible and medicinal, the young leaves are edible raw in salad or cooked as a pot herb, they are very rich in vitamin B1 and riboflavin. The herb has a long history of use as an alternative medicine dating back to ancient times. Being used as a panacea (medicinal for everything) in some cultures, one American Indian name for the plant translates to “life medicine.” And recent research indicates that this name may not be far from true! The chemical analysis of Plantgo Major reveals the remarkable glycoside Aucubin. Acubin has been reported in the Journal Of Toxicology as a powerful anti-toxin. There are many more highly effective constituents in this plant including Ascorbic-acid, Apigenin, Baicalein, Benzoic-acid, Chlorogenic-acid, Citric-acid, Ferulic-acid, Oleanolic-acid, Salicylic-acid, and Ursolic-acid. The leaves and the seed are medicinal used as an antibacterial, antidote, astringent, antiinflammatory, antiseptic, antitussive, cardiac, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, haemostatic, laxative, ophthalmic, poultice, refrigerant, and vermifuge. Medical evidence exists to confirm uses as an alternative medicine for asthma, emphysema, bladder problems, bronchitis, fever, hypertension, rheumatism and blood sugar control. A decoction of the roots is used in the treatment of a wide range of complaints including diarrhoea, dysentery, gastritis, peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, haemorrhage, haemorrhoids, cystitis, bronchitis, catarrh, sinusitis, coughs, asthma and hay fever. It also causes a natural aversion to tobacco and is currently being used in stop smoking preparations. Extracts of the plant have antibacterial activity, it is a safe and effective treatment for bleeding, it quickly stops blood flow and encourages the repair of damaged tissue. The heated leaves are used as a wet dressing for wounds, skin inflammations, malignant ulcers, cuts, stings and swellings and said to promote healing without scars. Poultice of hot leaves is bound onto cuts and wounds to draw out thorns, splinters and inflammation. The root is said to be used as an anti-venom for rattlesnakes bites. Plantain seeds contain up to 30% mucilage which swells in the gut, acting as a bulk laxative and soothing irritated membranes. The seeds are used in the treatment of parasitic worms. A distilled water made from the plant makes an excellent eye lotion.
Plantain Herbal Folklore and History
Native Americans carried powdered roots of Plantain as protection against snakebites or to ward off snakes. Plantain was called Englishman’s Foot or White Man’s Foot as it was said to grow where ever their feet touched the ground – this is referred to in Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha.’. Some old European lore states that Plantain is effective for the bites of mad dogs, epilepsy, and leprosy. In the United States the plant was called ‘Snake Weed,’ from a belief in its efficacy in cases of bites from venomous creatures.
“Medicinal” herb tea: For colds and flu use 1 tbls. dry or fresh whole Plantain (seed, root, and leaves) to 1 cup boiling water, steep 10 min. strain, sweeten. Drink through the day.
Healing salve: In large non-metallic pan place 1lb. of entire Plantain plant chopped, and 1 cup lard, cover, cook down on low heat till all is mushy and green. Strain while hot, cool and use for burns, insect bites, rashes, and all sores. Note: used as night cream for wrinkles.